Strip searching ‘overused’ in WA prisons

Only three per cent of strip searches were based on intelligence or reasonable suspicion.
Only three per cent of strip searches were based on intelligence or reasonable suspicion.

ROUTINE, excessive strip searching of inmates at West Australian prisons is harmful and ineffective at finding contraband while visitors are also being inappropriately examined, an independent review has found.

The belief that strip searching deterred people from hiding contraband lacked credible evidence, WA Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan said in a report on Thursday.

Mr Morgan said only three per cent of searches were based on intelligence or reasonable suspicion, and strip searching could potentially be harmful.

“Many people in custody – probably the majority – have experienced trauma from physical, emotional, and sexual victimisation and abuse,” he said.

“The humiliation and degradation of a strip search can cause further harm.

“The department recognises the harm to women, but has not given equal attention to the harm to men.”

WA Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan.

More than 2000 prison visitors were strip searched in the past five years.

That included 374 children, half of whom were aged under four, but none were found to have contraband items.

Almost 900,000 prisoners were strip searched in the same period but only 571 items were found, most of which were not weapons or drug-related.

Corrective Services Commissioner Tony Hassall stressed 11 per cent were weapons or other harmful items, while 28 per cent were drugs or drug paraphernalia.

The commissioner defended routine strip searching, saying it was used to maintain order and security.

“We will continue to use strip searching as a deterrent to stop contraband entering our prisons,” Mr Hassall said.

He said all strip searches were conducted with dignity, respect and courtesy.

A family member was present for searches involving children, he added.

Mr Morgan said he hoped the department’s own review would lead to routine strip searching being phased out, but was surprised it did not support trialling new technology.

“It is odd that metal detectors and body scanners are now routine screening requirements at airports, courts and many government buildings, but not in our prisons,” he said.

WA Prison Officers Union secretary Andy Smith agreed a trial of less invasive and more effective scanning technology should be considered.

Staff should not be subjected to strip searches, according to Mr Smith.

“If there is enough intelligence to suggest that a staff member is attempting to bring contraband into a prison, the matter should be referred directly to police,” he said.

 

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